In the News

Program Allows Donations For Grab-And-Go Meals

Big Island Now·

With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening livelihoods and closing schools, thousands of families have been thrust into a position where they no longer have access to the free school meals they rely on to supplement their household budgets.

Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice is working with the Hawai‘i Department of Education and a number of community organizations throughout the state to ensure that free grab-and-go meals can be made available even while school is out.

All through September 2020, when customers visit local Safeway stores in Hawai‘i, they will see signs advertising the annual Nourishing Neighbors fundraiser sponsored by the Safeway Foundation and with the support of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).

Making a donation at the register when you check out of any Safeway store on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu or Hawai‘i Island will support work to help students continue to receive free, healthy meals at a time when many families are struggling more than ever before.

“With the status of the 2020–21 academic year uncertain, and as the pandemic continues to place severe hardship on Hawai‘i families, it is critical that we continue to support free, nutritious grab-and-go meals for keiki who need them,” said Daniela Spoto, Hawai‘i Appleseed Director of Anti-Hunger Initiatives.

On a typical school day, nearly 65,000 economically disadvantaged Hawai‘i students benefit from free or reduced-price school breakfast and lunch. For many, these are the only nutritious meals that they eat regularly. For their families, these meals help relieve financial stress by reducing their food budgets.

During a typical summer, when students are not able to eat free or reduced-price meals at school, community partners work together to provide food to children and youth in low-income areas via the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The free, healthy grab-and-go meals are prepared according to the United States Department of Agriculture standards.

However, with schools closed for most of the second half of the previous academic year, these partners banded together to expand the program beginning in March. As of July 16, this partnership of rotating nonprofit and government organizations had established 30 grab-and-go meal sites serving some 5,500 children per day.

“It’s clear that the need for this program is there,” said Nicole Woo, Hawai‘i Appleseed Senior Policy Analyst. “With Safeway Foundation’s Nourishing Neighbors fundraiser, we’ll be able to continue meeting that need with a program that is on track to serve more than 1.5 million meals in 2020.”

The Nourishing Neighbors campaign, formerly Hunger Is, will run the entire month of September at more than 20 Safeway stores in Hawai‘i. Donations at the Maui Safeway locations will go to the Maui Food Bank, another worthy cause to support.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige unveils $100M program to help renters affected by pandemic

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

Hawaii renters who are at risk of eviction due to the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible for financial help under a new $100 million rent relief and housing assistance program announced Tuesday.

“We want to keep people in their homes,” Gov. David Ige said in announcing the program at a news conference at the state Capitol. “We don’t need additional people who are homeless during this very, very difficult time.”

The new program, underwritten by federal Corona­virus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, will provide renters with monthly rent as well as financial counseling.

Those eligible include Hawaii renters who are unemployed or partially unemployed due to the pandemic and have a household income at or below 100% of area median income. In Honolulu that’s $125,900 for a family of four.

“It’s not a grant or a loan. It’s a payment to help those at risk of eviction through no fault of their own,” said Denise Iseri-Matsubara, executive director of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.

Under the program, payments could go as high as $2,000 per month on Oahu and $1,500 per month on the neighbor islands. Payments will go directly to landlords and can be made in lump sum amounts of up to three months at a time.

Those who have been lobbying for financial assistance for renters welcomed the effort.

Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, said the $100 million figure is roughly in line with projections of rental assistance in the islands through the end of the year.

“The big question now is the implementation,” Thornton said in an email. “Is the process going to be easy enough to navigate to connect the available funding with the landlords and tenants that need it?”

The CARES Act money is available only through the end of December, he noted.

“It seems increasingly likely that the record level of unemployment spawned by the pandemic is not going away by the end of the year, so our state (and others) are going to need additional support from the federal government in the coming year,” Thornton said.

Last month Ige extended a statewide moratorium on evictions through the end of September.

“But we must do more to keep families in their homes,” Ige said at Tuesday’s news briefing.

The program will be administered by nonprofits Catholic Charities Hawaii and Aloha United Way.

Rob Van Tassell, Catholic Charities Hawaii CEO and president, said people are being asked to stay at home during this pandemic. “So the focus right now must be that we all have a home. This program makes a big step toward accomplishing that goal,” he said

House Speaker Scott Saiki said bringing direct relief to renters was identified early as a priority in the state Legislature and led to the creation of a House Select Committee on COVID-19 subcommittee of community leaders that originally proposed a $100 million rental assistance program.

“This program will assist renters not just with their current rent, but also with paying their back rent,” Saiki said.

Applications for assistance are now being accepted for rent payments due between Aug. 1 and Dec. 28. Details of a second phase that will cover rents and mortgages from March 1 will be announced soon, officials said.

The Hawaii Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program is open to full-time Hawaii residents age 18 and older who have proof of valid and current tenancy for their primary residence in Hawaii and can demonstrate a loss of income directly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, go to the program’s new website at hihousinghelp.com.

Applications are being accepted now. Call 521-HELP (4357) or 211; to apply online, visit catholiccharities hawaii.org or auw.org.

The Conversation: Keeping an eye on housing evictions

Hawaii Public Radio·

The threat of eviction continues to loom over thousands of Island residents. The sate moratorium runs out at the end of the month and President Trump has taken steps to put off evictions until the end of the year. To get a better sense of the issue, The Conversation’s Harrison Patino spoke with Tom Helper of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Economic Law and Justice. Click here for a link to Legal Aid Hawaii’s website with resources for renters and homeowners.

Tenants at Lahaina Front Street Apartments Celebrate Federal Court Win to Keep Rent Affordable Until 2051

Maui Now·

Tenants of the Lahaina Front Street Apartments low-income housing project welcomed a federal court decision this week that ensures that the project will stay affordable until 2051.

The 40-page decision by Hawai‘i federal District Court Judge Jill Otake rejected an attempt by the project developer, Front Street Affordable Housing Partners, to end the restrictions set in place to prevent sharp increases in rents or sale of the project unencumbered by the rent restrictions.

The Front Street project was built in 2001 to provide affordable rental housing to low income residents of Maui. Front Street is one of the few affordable housing complexes left on Maui. Currently, the maximum income for four is about $55,000 to rent an apartment at Front Street. In return for $15 million in state funded tax credits, the developer is contracted to keep the apartments affordable for 51 years.

However, after just 15 years, the developer asked the state’s financing agency, the Hawai‘i Housing Finance & Development Corporation, for permission to end the restrictions.

According to the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, attorneys representing the tenants said the HHFDC agreed to the developer’s request without complying with applicable law.  Without the court challenge, the organization say ending of rent restrictions could have led to the doubling or tripling of rents and the eviction of low-income tenants who were unable to pay.

The court ruled that the developer was obligated to honor its commitment to keep rents affordable for the next 31 years, and that an attempted “release” of the low-income restrictions between the developer and HHFDC was unenforceable. The court explained, “under Hawai‘i law, the Release is invalid because it was not done pursuant to a term in the Declaration and instead executed by agreement between” the developer and HHFDC “without any consent of beneficiaries like Plaintiffs.”

Tenant Mike Tuttle, the lead plaintiff in the case, expressed relief at the decision. Tuttle, 57, has lived at Front Street with his teenage daughters since 2015. Until March, when he was furloughed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuttle worked as a Retail Sales Manager. “It’s almost impossible to find affordable housing on Maui,” said Tuttle. “It’s great to know that I will able to keep a roof over my head and for my kids.”

The tenants were represented pro bono by Andrew Lillie, Joseph Lambert, and Cory Wroblewski of the international law firm of Hogan Lovells US LLP, Victor Geminiani and Tom Helper of the Honolulu nonprofit Lawyers for Equal Justice, and Maui attorney Lance Collins.

“We are very pleased with the decision,” said attorney Joseph Lambert of Hogan Lovells US LLP, lead counsel in the case. “The court’s ruling ensures that the Front Street Apartments will remain rent-restricted and affordable through 2051, which is what the developer originally promised it would do.”

Lance Collins explained that “when a developer gets substantial tax credits and zoning concessions on the promise that they will build a project for affordable housing, we must be keep them to the word.”

“Like many others at Front Street, I am retired and living on a fixed income,” said plaintiff Chi Guyer. “If the court hadn’t protected us from rent increases, I would not be able to afford to live on Maui.”

ACLU Calls for Homeless Sweeps to Stop while MPD Clears out Kahului Camp

Maui Time·

While the American Civil Liberties Union calls for homeless sweeps to stop as Maui Police Department and Maui County Administration continue to make major sweeps to the houseless community, this time in Central Maui. ACLU states that these sweeps are cruel, and unconstitutional according to the 9th circuit court, not to mention the CDC has stated shelter in place is the safest policy for the community, and does not support moving encampments during the pandemic.

“Since this pandemic began, and over the course of the last several months, we’ve called for the halting of sweeps across the state,” says Kathleen Wong, of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We reached out to officials on O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Island demanding that they stop the sweeps and that they reopen, keep open, and maintain park bathrooms. We’ve worked closely with advocates in those respective counties as well.”

The recent press release calling for a halt in Honolulu is a direct response to their criminalization of houselessness on Oʻahu.

“The most recent attention given to O‘ahu is in specific response to Chief Ballard who recently threated to arrest houseless people in the City and County of Honolulu,” says Wong. “However, we will continue the effort to end sweeps statewide as long as they persist, and expect that our advocacy efforts–along with groups on the ground–will continue in every county as long as their actions criminalizing houselessness persist.”

Over 70 officials, organizations, and individuals — representing a broad range of interests and constituencies — released a statement calling for a halt to “sweeps” of the houseless community during this ongoing pandemic. Many members of this community are families, but the City and County of Honolulu and the Honolulu Police Department have promised to continue citations and arrests for anyone in parks and beaches, even if they have nowhere else to go.

“The most recent attention given to O‘ahu is in specific response to Chief Ballard who recently threated to arrest houseless people in the City and County of Honolulu,” says Wong. “However, we will continue the effort to end sweeps statewide as long as they persist, and expect that our advocacy efforts–along with groups on the ground–will continue in every county as long as their actions criminalizing houselessness persist.”

Over 70 officials, organizations, and individuals — representing a broad range of interests and constituencies — released a statement calling for a halt to “sweeps” of the houseless community during this ongoing pandemic. Many members of this community are families, but the City and County of Honolulu and the Honolulu Police Department have promised to continue citations and arrests for anyone in parks and beaches, even if they have nowhere else to go.

That is crystal clear. And yet — flying in the face of CDC guidance — last week HPD Chief Susan Ballard said people who are unsheltered will be cited and arrested if they are in the parks or on the beaches. Making this more confusing is the fact that since the pandemic began, more than 10,000 citations have been issued statewide — thousands to people who are unsheltered — and prosecutors on Oahu and Maui have begun dismissing those citations en masse because they never should have been issued in the first place. This is because people who are houseless are exempt under the emergency orders because they have no place else to go. Issuing new citations after dismissing old citations is nothing more than harassment.

We all want people who are unsheltered to get into housing, but our shelters now have less space than ever because of social distancing guidelines. Just this week there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Iwilei homeless shelter. Forcing more people inside will make this worse. And if an unsheltered person is arrested for being in a park or on a beach on O‘ahu, they’ll be sent to the O‘ahu Community Correctional Center, which is now seeing its own growing outbreak of the virus. We never agree with these sweeps. They’re cruel, ineffective, and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals has said sweeps like these are unconstitutional, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand. But aside from those legal, philosophical, and humanitarian differences with the City’s policy, continuing with sweeps now is endangering public safety, not protecting it. Please join us in a call to end this practice, at least until this pandemic is behind us.

Signatories

African-American Lawyers Association
ALEA Bridge
American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i
Church and Society, Harris United Methodist Church
Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i
Family Promise of Hawai‘i
Hawai‘i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development
Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice
Hawai‘i Children’s Action Network
Hawai‘i Friends of Civil Rights
Hawai‘i Health & Harm Reduction Center
Hawai‘i Innocence Project
Hawai‘i J-20+
Hawai‘i Public Health Institute
Hawai‘i Strategy Lab
Hui Aloha
Japanese American Citizens League – Honolulu Chapter
Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai‘i
Mental Health America of Hawai‘i
Muslim Association of Hawai‘i
Honolulu Hawai‘i NAACP
National Association of Social Workers-Hawai‘i
ʻŌiwi TV
Pacific Gateway Center
Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawai‘i
The Pōpolo Project
Project Hiehie
Project Vision Hawai‘i
Temple Emanu-El
UNITE HERE! Local 5
Dr. Amy Agbayani
Christopher Akana
Alani Apio, Hui Aloha volunteer
Shanty Sigrah Asher
Sonja Bigalke-Bannan, MSW, LSW
Twinkle Borge, Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae
Cathy Kawano-Ching, Hui Aloha volunteer
Samantha Church
Rev. Thomas J. FitzGerald, First Unitarian Church of Honolulu
Cecilia H. Fordham
Lieutenant Governor Josh Green
Clare Hanusz, Attorney-at-Law
Jen Jenkins, Community Co-Chair to the Department of Heath’s Sex and Gender Minority Work Group
Darrah Kauhane, Executive Director of Project Vision Hawai‘i and Project Hiehie
John Kawamoto
Rynette Keen
Justin F. Kollar, Prosecuting Attorney – County of Kaua‘i
James Koshiba, Hui Aloha
Professor Linda Hamilton Krieger, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law
Charles R. Lawrence III, Prof. Emeritus, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law
Professor Ken Lawson
Professor Mark A. Levin
Professor Justin Levinson
Professor Mari Matsuda
Diane Matsuura, Harris United Methodist Church
Patricia McManaman, Retired Attorney
Leʻa Minton, Certified Nurse-Midwife, MI-Home Program
Dee Nakamura
Deja Ostrowski, Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai‘i
Professor Robert Perkinson
Kaimana Pine, Hui Aloha volunteer
Rosanna Prieto, MSW
Cheryl Prince, LCSW
Nathalie Rita, PhD Candidate
Dodie Rivera, MSN, RN
Darlene Rodrigues
Darcie Scharfenstein, Hui Aloha volunteer
Professor Nandita Sharma
Dina Shek, Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai‘i
Professor Avi Soifer
Chloe Stewart
Nicky S. Winter, Executive Director of ALEA Bridge
Summer Lee Yadao
Professor Eric Yamamoto, Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice

Officials, individuals, organizations calling on City & HPD to stop homeless ‘sweeps’ amid the pandemic

KITV4·

Over 70 officials, organizations, and individuals are calling for the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) he City and County of Honolulu to stop “sweeps” of the homeless community during the pandemic.

Even if people have nowhere else to go, HPD and the City have promised to continue giving out citations and arrest those at parks and beaches.

The statement and list of signatories is as follows: 

“We call on the leadership of the City and County of Honolulu — and the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) in particular — to stop sweeping our houseless neighbors in the middle of this unprecedented global pandemic. It is cruel, legally questionable (at best), and a threat to public health and safety. Public health experts locally and nationally say this is bad health policy, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has weighed in with the following guidance: “Considerations for encampments — If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.

That is crystal clear. And yet — flying in the face of CDC guidance — last week HPD Chief Susan Ballard said people who are unsheltered will be cited and arrested if they are in the parks or on the beaches. Making this more confusing is the fact that since the pandemic began, more than 10,000 citations have been issued statewide — thousands to people who are unsheltered — and prosecutors on Oahu and Maui have begun dismissing those citations en masse because they never should have been issued in the first place. This is because people who are houseless are exempt under the emergency orders because they have no place else to go. Issuing new citations after dismissing old citations is nothing more than harassment.

We all want people who are unsheltered to get into housing, but our shelters now have less space than ever because of social distancing guidelines. Just this week there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Iwilei homeless shelter. Forcing more people inside will make this worse. And if an unsheltered person is arrested for being in a park or on a beach on O’ahu, they’ll be sent to the O’ahu Community Correctional Center, which is now seeing its own growing outbreak of the virus. We never agree with these sweeps. They’re cruel, ineffective, and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals has said sweeps like these are unconstitutional, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand. But aside from those legal, philosophical, and humanitarian differences with the City’s policy, continuing with sweeps now is endangering public safety, not protecting it. Please join us in a call to end this practice, at least until this pandemic is behind us.”

Signatories

  • African-American Lawyers Association
  • ALEA Bridge
  • American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i
  • Church and Society, Harris United Methodist Church
  • Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i
  • Family Promise of Hawai’i
  • Hawai’i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development
  • Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice
  • Hawai’i Children’s Action Network
  • Hawai’i Friends of Civil Rights
  • Hawai’i Health & Harm Reduction Center
  • Hawai’i Innocence Project
  • Hawai’i J-20+
  • Hawai’i Public Health Institute
  • Hawai’i Strategy Lab
  • Hui Aloha
  • Japanese American Citizens League – Honolulu Chapter
  • Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai’i
  • Mental Health America of Hawai’i
  • Muslim Association of Hawai’i
  • Honolulu Hawai’i NAACP
  • National Association of Social Workers-Hawai’i
  • ?Oiwi TV
  • Pacific Gateway Center
  • Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawai’i
  • The Popolo Project
  • Project Hiehie
  • Project Vision Hawai’i
  • Temple Emanu-El
  • UNITE HERE! Local 5
  • Dr. Amy Agbayani
  • Christopher Akana
  • Alani Apio, Hui Aloha volunteer
  • Shanty Sigrah Asher
  • Sonja Bigalke-Bannan, MSW, LSW
  • Twinkle Borge, Pu’uhonua O Wai’anae
  • Cathy Kawano-Ching, Hui Aloha volunteer
  • Samantha Church
  • Rev. Thomas J. FitzGerald, First Unitarian Church of Honolulu
  • Cecilia H. Fordham
  • Lieutenant Governor Josh Green
  • Clare Hanusz, Attorney-at-Law
  • Jen Jenkins, Community Co-Chair to the Department of Heath’s Sex and Gender Minority Work Group
  • Darrah Kauhane, Executive Director of Project Vision Hawai’i and Project Hiehie
  • John Kawamoto
  • Rynette Keen
  • Justin F. Kollar, Prosecuting Attorney – County of Kaua’i
  • James Koshiba, Hui Aloha
  • Professor Linda Hamilton Krieger, University of Hawai’i at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law
  • Charles R. Lawrence III, Prof. Emeritus, University of Hawai’i at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law
  • Professor Ken Lawson
  • Professor Mark A. Levin
  • Professor Justin Levinson
  • Professor Mari Matsuda
  • Diane Matsuura, Harris United Methodist Church
  • Patricia McManaman, Retired Attorney
  • Le?a Minton, Certified Nurse-Midwife, MI-Home Program
  • Dee Nakamura
  • Deja Ostrowski, Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai’i
  • Professor Robert Perkinson
  • Kaimana Pine, Hui Aloha volunteer
  • Rosanna Prieto, MSW
  • Cheryl Prince, LCSW
  • Nathalie Rita, PhD Candidate
  • Dodie Rivera, MSN, RN
  • Darlene Rodrigues
  • Darcie Scharfenstein, Hui Aloha volunteer
  • Professor Nandita Sharma
  • Dina Shek, Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai’i
  • Professor Avi Soifer
  • Chloe Stewart
  • Nicky S. Winter, Executive Director of ALEA Bridge
  • Summer Lee Yadao
  • Professor Eric Yamamoto
  • Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice

Not Politics As Usual

The Hawaiʻi Herald·

In Part 1 of this article (in the 7/17/20 Herald issue), I featured four outstanding women in the Japanese American community, analyzing their societal contributions through my mentor’s definition of politics as “conflict over meaning and value.”

In this second part, I spotlight recent efforts — both within and outside of Nikkei networks — that try to translate our collective values into meaningful institutional practice. I posed the same questions asked of earlier interviewees: What important social issue today do you think is misrepresented or under-discussed in Hawai’i’s mainstream media, and how can we address this issue via the law, governance or social policy?

Protecting the Economic Well-being of Vulnerable Tourism Workers Until the Industry Comes Back

Visitor-industry worker Rodney Nakashima always wanted to be knowledgeable about the things beyond his hotel job duties —“I wanted to be informed about union membership, wanted to be well-rounded,” reflects the friendly, low-key assistant head gardener of Sheraton Waikiki. The sansei veteran of O’ahu’s mass-tourism sector has put in 15 years of mindfully caring for plants and greenery gracing the grounds of not only the Sheraton but other hotels at the heart of Waikīkī’s famous beachwater edge (including the Moana Surfrider’s nearly century-old, world-famous, iconic banyan tree).

Nakashima trained in the cultivation of native and invasive botanical species brought to hotel grounds from all over the Hawaiian islands and around the world. This type of greenery labor is “really sacred; many plants have a history at their hotel, so we have to be careful doing things like cutting,” he says. He feels humbled by the fact that coconut trees he had planted 10 years ago remain standing and that the special celebration trees and Native Hawaiian plants he had brought into hotel gardens, such as those in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, are accompanied by signs commemorating their histories there. “People think, ʻIt’s just a tree,’ but it is actually a big informational system,” he explains.

Nakashima descends from tough sugar-cane farmers who migrated across Hawaiʻi to find employment (and who moved from the Big Island to Maui and Oʻahu, then to Kauaʻi). Raised by a Nisei father who had served in the U.S. Army during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and by a war-bride mother who immigrated to Honolulu from Osaka where her family was employed on oyster farms — the hotel worker hails from practical working people.

This genealogy of agricultural and horticultural aptitude seems to make him a cautious observer of the political landscape around him. Nakashima watches for post-COVID-19 shifts in our government’s economic stance, almost as closely as he had once gleaned information on day-by-day changes in the natural environment to perform his landscaping work. In the age of the coronavirus, “I am looking to our mayor and governor who I hold accountable for what is happening and who I respect for taking the time and stepping back in reopening the state,” he says, expressing the complicated position of visitor-industry workers who await tourism’s re-start.

In his estimation, only about 10% of COVID-19’s societal outcomes will result from individual actions such as washing hands and social distancing. More importantly, 50% will be shaped by unions — like Local 5, a very active service-industry labor organization to which he belongs (unitehere5.org). To Nakashima, unions protect workers from corporate employers that are now scrambling to take financial advantage of the virus-generated chaos, threatening to cut back on employees’ hard-earned pay levels and benefits. And the remaining 40% of how coronavirus will affect Hawaiʻi, he says, is up to our government to regulate business so as to keep stable the economic lives of working people in Hawaiʻi.

Now that the state is in a position to bring corporations to the table so as to balance their interests with those of other groups in these tough times, adds Nakashima, what will our government do to get companies to protect jobs, to respect workers’ past pay which reflects their years of experience, to continue providing fair benefits? “Because tourism will come back,” he says, predicting that it will eventually return to the robust economy we had enjoyed before 120 days ago, when the COVID-19 crisis began in Hawaiʻi. “But the question is, when?”

Nakashima calls for state practices and policies that encourage the private sector to keep tourism-industry employees continuously earning a paycheck for their hard work. Through innovative partnerships during the coronavirus situation, for example, Local 5 has helped members procure this kind of much-needed employment. Not only representing hotel and airport workers but also healthcare employees, the union arranged for some of the furloughed hotel workforce to assist with the state Dept. of Health’s Temporary Quarantine Isolation Center in Iwilei. There, high-risk populations (e.g., the houseless, those who have mental illness and/or substance abuse addiction, unsheltered veterans and vulnerable family members needing protection from household violence) can be safely housed during the pandemic. With his background in groundskeeping, Nakashima was temporarily retrained as an environmental specialist and now disinfects room and common areas at TQIC.

Paola Rodelas, Local 5 communication specialist and Nakashima’s colleague, contrasts her union’s strategy of finding more work for furloughed hotel employees post-coronavirus, with non-unionized hotels’ management practices. “They [non-union hotels] laid-off workers and then, as the economy is expected to re-open, made them reapply for their jobs under subcontractors. So employees were unsure whether they can keep the same position, pay and benefits. Because they were not protected by unions, after they got fired, they had to go back and fight for their jobs. There is no excuse for this, especially coming from big corporations,” she says, mentioning Highgate, a Manhattan-based real-estate investment company which manages the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, ʻAlohilani Resort and Courtyard by Marriott Waikiki Beach, as an example.

Nakashima says, “I respects these businesses and know they have to get going, or the money will run out.” But he hopes that in that process, the state will protect workers’ jobs which might be lost due to the pandemic crisis. “Not all [jobs] can come back, but what is the pathway for the hospitality industry, the restaurant industry, to help us return? Where are the workers going to work? Have they got other options for employment to that [tourism-industry job]?,” he asks.

When working at the Sheraton, Nakashima was grateful for his Local-5-secured pay, benefits and pension. He hopes that one day, all of the visitor industry might provide jobs that help workers feed their families and live an affordable life in Hawaiʻi. Right now, he feels, without this type of across-the-board standard, the tourism labor market is split into two-tiers or sets of job standards: those who work unionized jobs protected by collective-bargaining contracts like him, and those who end up with hotel and other service-industry work without this kind of security, healthcare, pensions and other benefits. “But everyone [working in the visitor industry] should be up to our [union] standard,” he says of the $2.07 billion-a-year (in 2019) industry’s economic ecosystem.

More Stability and Support for Crucial Gig-Economy Artists that Help Nourish Local Community

Raised in the Himalayan mountains of India, ethnomusicologist Teri Skillman sensed an instant affinity for the diverse cultures of Hawaiʻi when she first arrived in 1982. “I felt the values and priorities here fit [me] in ways that the mainland did not,” reflected the woman who now serves as the Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance’s CEO.

Trained from childhood in classical Indian music and dance (including playing with the Delhi Symphony Orchestra when she was just in high school!), when she initially came to the islands, Skillman studied hula under Kumu Edward Kalahiki and Noenoe Zuttermeister. Eventually, she consulted with many kumu hula for her doctoral dissertation on the Merrie Monarch Festival. After stints such as Hamilton Library’s outreach coordinator (at the University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa) and executive director of a folk-life center in New Jersey, Skillman now aims her considerable knowledge of the arts to advocate for Hawaiʻi’s beloved — albeit economically undervalued — creative workforce. Cultural artists and performers are respected in Hawaiʻi at the individual level…but not supported societally, something the former musician aims to address.

While a teaching assistant, Skillman once noticed that as much as a quarter of her music-education students, in an UHM undergraduate class of 28, displayed digital-dexterity deficiencies. Attributing the problem to a lack of music instruction when the students were in elementary school, this finding “hit home” with Skillman, at that time the mother of a female child who was attending a Department of Education school. She made sure that her own daughter received basic musical-performance training, but the larger lesson, of public-school classes as a means to transfer necessary cultural-artistic skills to the younger generation, long stayed with her.

Skillman’s Alliance has worked alongside the DOE, the Hawaiʻi Association of Independent Schools, the UHM Colleges of Education and Arts and Humanities and the Hawaiʻi State Foundation on Culture and the Arts as stakeholding partners in ARTS FIRST. Established by Act 306/01, ARTS FIRST anticipated the narrow standardized-testing emphases of the millennial “No Child Left Behind” era. To balance out that schooling trend, these institutional partners put together a fine-arts strategic plan from 2001 to ensure meaningful arts-education learning experiences for all Hawai‘i children in the classroom.

Today, under Skillman’s leadership, the Alliance — originally created in 1981 by HSFCA’s founding director, Albert Preis — also connects working artists through an online database for collaborative projects (hawaiiartsalliance.org/creative-network). “The Arts Alliance used to be, and needs to return to being, more community-minded,” summarizes Skillman of the vision she has enacted since being hired to lead the Alliance in 2019, a vision centered on issues of creative labor in the gig economy.

“Even before COVID-19, we have been trying to get more artists to sign up for our Creative Artists Network. We want to offer business-management workshops and, hopefully, services such as different types of insurance, affordable legal assistance and resources for creative artists,” she says.

“It is inexcusable that creative workers in the gig economy do not have these benefits or even basic job stability,” Skillman adds. Such creative cultural and artistic labor is essential to the visitor industry’s success. After all, “People who come to Hawaiʻi want two things [from their visit]: a beautiful environment, and cultural traditions. Without those two, Hawaiʻi would be seen as not offering anything.”

Skillman cites 2015 Hawaiʻi data from the Americans for the Arts’ Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 study which finds that “Nearly 45% of nonresident attendees [of local arts or cultural activities] indicated that the primary purpose of their visit to the state was ʻspecifically to attend this arts/cultural event’.”

That yearlong national study had also revealed that in the islands, “spending by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences totaled $205.6 million,” and that, while nonresidents had constituted just 7.9% of all cultural-or-arts-event attendees, they actually spent 155% more per person than Hawaiʻi-resident attendees, in order to experience the same events, as they also pay “surrounding expenses of lodging, meals and transportation.“

Almost $206 million a year is “not a drop in the bucket,” assesses Skillman. As Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance’s associate director, she hopes that in the next legislative session, an “Arts and Cultural” caucus can build political awareness in the islands about the value of creative workers to the tourism industry as well as to the community. In the last session, mourns Skillman, “There were no bills to support the gig economy — the creative-sector workers. But how crucial they are to how well the economy recovers!”

Skillman’s latest effort to support gig workers in the creative sector is a collaborative application for a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” place-making grant with the Downtown Arts Center. If the Alliance were to procure this grant, it could once again help to reinvigorate downtown Honolulu’s historic arts and culture district — an area which in its recent past had been revived by the Alliance’s ARTS at Mark’s Garage, in collaboration with small businesses in that area, through First Friday from 2001-12. “To a great extent,” Skillman observes, “Chinatown has fallen apart, and First Friday is now dead in the water. But for the long run, with the rail [project completion] coming, it makes sense to address the region from Beretania to Aloha Tower and from Maunakea to Richards St. It makes sense for it to go arts oriented.”

The goal would be to focus on local participants, not out-of-state tourism, such as Micronesians and other new immigrants in nearby public and low-income housing — “They should have access to the arts and creative programs…to rejuvenate the historical, cultural arts district,” she stated, recognizing the many independent art galleries, pubs and restaurants, cultural organizations, flower shops, fashion retailers, architecture firms and performance spaces in Honolulu’s longtime small-business neighborhood.

Skillman applies her earlier lessons, which she learned when studying the Merrie Monarch Festival for her dissertation, to this Honolulu urban area. That festival ended up reenergizing business in Hilo, she says, because its organizers had focused on building local community interest and used different sectors of the Hawaiʻi island economy to help out. “Focus on community, on Hawaiian values and issues, and everyone benefits,” she says. “This must be seen as the bottom line.”

Stakeholder Groups Coming Together Under the Right Conditions for Collaborative Problem-Solving

In Hawaiʻi, the gap between average household incomes of the top 1% of our population (around $797,001 in 2015) and the bottom 99% (around $57,587), has been growing — paralleling the rising income inequality in most other U.S. states from the 1970s onward, according to the Economic Policy Institute (cnbc.com/2018/07/19/income-inequality-continues-to-grow-in-the-united-states.html).

For this reason, I interviewed Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Law Center for Law and Economic Justice, a non-profit which drew my attention due to its unusual mission. Part of a national network of 16 public-interest law centers, Appleseed locally attempts to “build a more socially just Hawai‘i, where everyone has genuine opportunities to achieve economic security and fulfill their potential” (hiappleseed.org/).

To achieve this, Thornton focuses his Center’s team of data analysts and public-policy researchers on what he calls “high-level systems issues.” Hawaiʻi’s decision-makers, he thinks, need to come up with an effective problem-solving process so that various social groups and economic actors in the islands that have traditionally demonstrated differences in priorities and perspectives, can come together to achieve concrete solutions to pressing matters of socio-economic inequality, especially regarding issues such as a livable wage for workers, affordable housing and a rebalanced tax structure.

These issues were underscored by the surprising (to some) data findings of the Aloha United Way’s ALICE report, originally released in 2017. The initial report illustrated the urgent nature of working-class economic struggle in the islands, revealing not only those beneath the official U.S. federal poverty level (about 11% of all Hawaiʻi households), but also the extent of families and individuals with slightly higher incomes that were “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” (ALICE, an additional 37% of all households here) — in a nutshell, the working poor.

Some forward-thinking political and economic leaders of the state saw from the report that [a total of] “48% of all local residents were struggling to make ends meet, and if you add a few percentage points to that figure, all of Hawaiʻi is done for,” Thornton explained. This motivated these leaders to rethink where we were headed, he said.

The percentage of Hawaiʻi households in the two combined income categories (federal poverty level + ALICE level) fell from the time of that first report to the time of its most recent version. However, since the economic impact of the coronavirus, Aloha United Way now estimates that 59% of Hawaiʻi residents don’t earn enough to cover the costs of a survival budget (see auw.org/more-half-hawaii-households-struggle-under-covid-aloha-united-way-says).

Despite this alarming data, Appleseed’s director shares an encouraging story from the last legislative session when a new package of bills was introduced with the intent of financially shoring up working families. The bills included a minimum-wage increase, tax credits for working families, affordable housing supports and an education component, Thornton described.

For the housing part of the bills, Thornton thought that most of the stakeholders were generally supportive of its $200 million appropriation toward infrastructure that promoted affordable housing development on state-owned lands.

However, he said, that bill’s controversial aspects included disputes over what constituted “affordable” housing, concerns about land use and environmental oversight and protection, and Native Hawaiian justice issues.

Thornton describes how the Hawaii Community Foundation then brought together a diverse group of political actors with often-conflicting interests, representing various perspectives on Hawaiʻi land and housing development. This group included Pacific Resources Partnership (aka the carpenters union), Aloha United Way, the Office for Hawaiian Affairs, the Sierra Club, Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, the Building Industry Association of Hawaii and other organizations. Recognizing a shared commitment to improve the affordable housing situation for Hawaiʻi families, the community representatives in the group ended up submitting joint testimony with proposed amendments to provide the bill with a broad base of support, he says.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak eventually led to the effort’s demise, Thornton views it as an exemplary start for addressing our complex political conflicts. “It was one of the best examples I’ve seen of a diverse, broad spectrum of stakeholders — people who historically have been divided — coming together with shared purpose to resolve a problem that impacts us all,” he sums up, contrasting this experience with how problems are often approached through the legislative process and elsewhere.

Thornton concludes that when “the right representatives come together in the right environment focused on collaborative problem-solving rather than negotiation,” even the most intractable problems can be addressed.

Omidyar Fellows Program announces members of eighth cohort

Pacific Business News·

The Omidyar Fellows Program has selected 16 Hawaii leaders across sectors to make up its newest cohort, officials with the program announced Monday.

The program, which is now in its eighth year, seeks to cultivate Hawaii’s growth by equipping local leaders with the skills and relationships necessary to collectively affect societal change. The members of this year’s cohort were selected through a rigorous application process that began in December 2019, based on their accomplishments, motivation, and ability to make positive change in the Islands.

“One thing that has become incredibly clear to all of us in the last six months is the importance and impact of thoughtful, credible, and intentional leadership,” said Bill Coy, director of Omidyar Fellows, in a statement. “We see leadership as an activity, not a role, and we have appreciated all of those who have stepped forward to diagnose the real and deeper challenges, engage others, and intervene skillfully. Cohort VIII joins us at a juncture of critical demands and remarkable opportunity.”

The members of Cohort VIII begins their 15-month curriculum in October 2020, which includes a full-day session each month; executive coaching; conversations with community, business, and government leaders; and more. The fellowship also includes an active network of 99 cross-sector leaders and change makers “committed to strengthening the well-being of Hawaii.”

The Omidyar Fellows program launched in 2012 with an inaugural cohort of 13 Fellows. The addition of Cohort VIII makes 115 total fellows for the program since its inception.

Here are the members of the Omidyar Fellows Program’s eighth cohort:

  • Tony Au (Kaimuki), executive vice president – residential real estate division, First Hawaiian Bank
  • Danielle Bass (Mililani Town), sustainability coordinator, State of Hawaii, Office of Planning
  • Jan Boivin (Waialae Iki), senior vice president & general counsel, Hawaii Pacific University
  • Daniel Chun (Ala Moana), director of sales, community, & public relations – Hawaii, Alaska Airlines
  • Sheila-Anne Ebert (Lilipuna), director of management & operations, Alexander & Baldwin
  • Marisa Hayase (Kailua), program director – Hawaii, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
  • Jocelyn Howard (Momilani), executive director, We Are Oceania
  • Janice Ikeda (Piihonua), executive director, Vibrant Hawaii
  • Doug Johnstone (Kahala), president – Hawaii, The Howard Hughes Corporation
  • Ashley Lukens (Kaimuki), executive director, Frost Family Foundation; principal consultant, Ashley Lukens Consulting
  • Darragh O’Carroll (Palolo), emergency physician, Kuakini Medical Center; writer & climate change advocate
  • Diane Paloma (Wailupe), chief executive officer, King Lunalilo Trust and Lunalilo Home
  • Emily Reber Porter (Kahala), chief operating officer, MacNaughton
  • Suzie Schulberg (Hawaii Kai), president & chief executive officer, Arcadia Family of Companies
  • Gavin Thornton (Enchanted Lake), executive director, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice
  • Wren Wescoatt (Manoa), principal, 7 Generation Consulting

The program, which is now in its eighth year, seeks to cultivate Hawaii’s growth by equipping local leaders with the skills and relationships necessary to collectively affect societal change.

How New, Agile Networks of People Are Helping Hawai‘i

Hawaii Business·

Pandemic and protest. Recession and rioting. The first half of 2020 pulled no punches.

Hawai‘i dodged the worst of the pandemic, and we haven’t yet had any riots, but the situation is dire. Massive unemployment, sinkholes in the state budget and crippling uncertainty.

The scale of our crisis is compounded by infighting. In a time when we need to work together, we seem more divided than ever. How can we achieve unity?

Since statehood, Hawai‘i has been dependent on corporate and government bureaucracies to manage social, economic and political relationships. In crisis, these organizations are not always responsive enough.

Yet in the midst of chaos, an alternative form of organization is serving important needs. Networks are forming around common goals, interests and principles. Members of these networks are coming together to help people in need, kick-start the economy and pave the road to a sustainable future.

These networks are flexible and decentralized. They bring together representatives from many organizations. And they provide an alternative way to get things done. Here are three.

Networked Around a Goal: Every1ne Hawaii and #Masks4All

Every1ne Hawaii came together in November 2019 with the goal of increasing civic engagement. At its core were nine friends: Alx Kawakami, Kimo Kennedy, Robert Kurisu, Jeff Laupola, Ryan Matsumoto, Zak Noyle, Dr. Darragh O’Carroll, Nicole Velasco and Keoni Williams. The core group planned to work with a network of community partners and social influencers to drive voter turnout in the 2020 election.

When the pandemic arrived, workplaces and county governments required face masks, but stores were sold out. Every1ne Hawaii pivoted to a new goal: distributing free masks. During their #Masks4All campaign, the group raised funds, ordered 2 million masks from a factory in China, and worked with friends, family and community partners across the Hawaiian Islands to distribute them.

Every1ne Hawaii worked with the Hawai‘i National Guard to distribute masks in Hāna (pictured) and elsewhere on Maui. | Photos: Courtesy of Every1ne Hawaii

These community partners reached out to their networks, activating more people. Hundreds of people participated in what Velasco calls “the ultimate coconut wireless.” This network allowed Every1ne Hawaii to solidify a statewide distribution network within three days of receiving the masks on O‘ahu.

On Maui, the group partnered with the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, Kai Lenny and Ian Walsh to distribute 160,000 masks. Lenny, Walsh and Deidre Tegarden of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center used their networks to get the job done.

Darryl Oliveira of HPM Building Supply had a connection with the Hawai‘i Army National Guard, which helped fly 200,000 masks by helicopter from O‘ahu to Hawai‘i Island. Every1ne Hawaii reached out to Janice Ikeda of Vibrant Hawai‘i, which led the distribution on that island and was supported by Kūha‘o Zane.

Pro surfers Kai Lenny and Ian Walsh also helped Every1ne Hawaii distribute masks on the Valley Isle.

“Everybody stepped up and found a way to help,” Velasco says. “There’s no way that we could do this with nine people. Truly, hundreds of people have helped to make this possible.”

Every1ne Hawaii is now returning to its original goal, increasing civic engagement. The core group members plan to use their existing relationships as the basis for ongoing collaboration, working with social influencers and community partners to spread awareness about voter registration.

“At the core, I think we’re people-focused,” Williams says. “Everyone in the group is focused on helping others overcome their own limitations. It’s about calling on people to do more than what they think they’re capable of as an individual. At scale, it’s about partnering organization to organization to do more than what a single organization can do.”

Networked Around Economic Interests: The Retail Reopening Committee

In early May, a committee of landlords, retailers, business leaders and retail associations created a plan for the phased reopening of retail operations.

The committee included representatives from the Hawai‘i Restaurant Association, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, Outrigger Enterprises, the real estate investment trust Washington Prime, Macy’s, Howard Hughes Corp., Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative, The MacNaughton Group, FCH Enterprises (Zippy’s), Kamehameha Schools, Atlas Insurance, Island Insurance, Brookfield Properties and Alexander & Baldwin.

Lynelle Marble, executive director of the Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative, saw a need to coordinate efforts to avoid duplication. “Restaurants and retailers were working on their individual checklists, but they were looking for an overarching agenda,” Marble says. “Everyone agreed to work on a guide that would provide overarching policies and protocols.”

Committee members met for the first time on May 6. Within 48 hours, they produced the “Hawai‘i COVID-19 Retail Reopening Guide.” They sent the guide to retailers and restaurants, the mayors, the governor and the state’s recovery navigator, Alan Oshima.

A&B CEO Chris Benjamin recognized that his company would have a big role in the reopening effort. A&B is Hawai‘i’s largest grocery-anchored retail property owner, and a safe and speedy reopening was vital for its tenants.

Kit Millan, A&B’s senior VP of asset management, was already in touch with landowners and retail tenant associations. Millan had read the CDC and Johns Hopkins University reopening guides and was researching the reopening plans of other states and countries. When the group formed, he shared the resources he’d been working on.

Members of the committee provided feedback and suggestions, each offering a different perspective. The diversity of perspectives was valuable because existing guidance wasn’t responsive to the needs of all stakeholders.

Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, was dissatisfied with some reopening guidelines produced by government agencies and committees that “didn’t have experience in retail operations.”

Many of these plans were designed with grocery stores in mind, but they weren’t responsive to the needs of local businesses like clothing stores or crack seed shops. Yamaki wanted a simple, visual guide to reopening that would reflect the needs of the diverse retailers in her association.

Pages from a guide created by a collaborative of landlords, retailers, business leaders and retail associations to guide the re-opening of the industry.

The final product was only seven pages, with color-coded visuals explaining which businesses should be allowed to reopen in each phase. Specific guidance was provided for different business types, including gyms and restaurants.

The committee convened with the limited goal of producing the guide, though ongoing collaboration will be needed to ensure safety, monitor health outcomes and respond to any resurgence of the virus.

The members of the committee will continue “to work collaboratively” because they are “bound by common interests,” Benjamin says. “COVID-19 doesn’t end when retail opens.”

Networked Around Principles: Uplift Hawai‘i

Uplift Hawai‘i describes itself as an economic recovery platform bringing together organizations, individuals, coalitions and other COVID-19 recovery initiatives. The group’s “informal advisory committee” consists of AJ Halagao, Billy Pieper, Brent Kakesako, Claire Sullivan, Dawn Lippert, Dee Nakamura, Gavin Thornton, Ikaika Hussey, Josh Wisch and Keoni Lee.

The committee came together through a series of informal conversations. They recognized that because of the economic crisis, policymakers would face tough decisions. With input from others, the committee says it produced five principles to guide the economic recovery effort toward a more equitable and more sustainable future. They want to support:

  1. The health and well-being of all Island residents
  2. A healthy relationship with our natural environment
  3. A diverse Island economy with more local business and a new model for tourism
  4. Economic equity and community engagement processes
  5. State and local government leadership

At the time of this writing, 100 organizations and more than 100 individuals have signed on to support the principles, the committee says. The committee plans to revise the list, with input from other Uplift Hawai‘i members; the expectation is that the revised principles will help influence
policy decisions.

Dawn Lippert, CEO of Elemental Excelerator, views the principles as a way to bring people together during the economic crisis to discuss and make decisions about the future of Hawai‘i.

“This is an imperfect set of principles,” Lippert admits. “Any plan will be imperfect. The best way to move forward is to get as many people as possible in the room and reflected in these decisions.”

Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, says that a set of shared principles can help decision-makers push through policy gridlock. In his policy work, Thornton has watched people “beat heads against a wall year after year.” He’s seen “countless reports, countless plans.” The task now is to find a plan people can agree on.

Billy Pieper is a VP at Barclays, the international financial services company, where he oversees the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard program. He believes principles can guide community leaders to better decisions. “Values and principles shape decision making,” Pieper says. “Leaders are hungry for this.”

Ikaika Hussey, an organizer for Unite Here Local 5, views Uplift Hawai‘i’s principles as emerging from Hawaiian culture. They reflect what the Native Hawaiians “figured out over thousands of years,” he says.

Hussey and Keoni Lee were also involved in writing the ‘Āina Aloha Economic Futures Declaration, a set of shared principles backed by an extensive network.

Uplift Hawai‘i includes the Economic Futures Declaration in its “potluck of resources,” a collection of presentations, reports, fact sheets and vision statements related to its objectives. Uplift Hawai‘i says it intends to support other efforts to create change and serve as a bridge between them.

Of course, agreeing on principles is easy. The hard part is translating those principles into policy. Our legislators share this task with Alan Oshima, the state’s economic and community recovery navigator appointed by Gov. David Ige.

New Networks

Oshima views the recovery as “a play with an ensemble cast and no lead actor.” To make it through the recovery, he says, we’ll need to manage expectations, support safety nets and listen to different voices.

As navigator, Oshima has convened 18 economic sector groups to provide input in the recovery planning process. He’s working with these groups to strengthen existing ties and establish new connections between leaders in unrelated economic sectors. These new networks will facilitate collaboration and stimulate innovation during the recovery, he says.

Alan Oshima, a former president and CEO at Hawaiian Electric Co., was appointed by Gov. David Ige to be the state’s economic and community recovery navigator. | Photo: Courtesy of Office of the Governor

Oshima says we shouldn’t “build an economy that looks like now, just bigger and better.” Instead, we need to take “an inventory of the new world.” Because of technological improvements in telework, telemedicine and remote learning, Hawai‘i’s “geographical isolation is no longer an impediment.”

“We already know how connected we are to each other,” Oshima says. “But connectivity has revealed our fragility. (After hurricanes) Iniki and Iselle, the damage was localized. The effect of the pandemic has been huge.

“We’re looking for sustainable fixes, not quick fixes. It can’t be what’s good for me, it’s got to be what’s good for us.”

New state program would give $500 a month for rent

KITV4·

HONOLULU – New pessimism over the the economy has experts now saying thousands more people could face eviction this year. A nonprofit that focuses on affordable housing for state residents estimates 50,000 to 60,000 renters are now affected by unemployment, and that puts their housing situation at risk.and that puts their housing situation at risk.

Waikiki renter Maddison Moliga is one of them. “I will be homeless because I won’t be able to pay my rent,” she says about her worst nightmare.

Now, laid off from her job as a server at The Cheesecake Factory, she’s relying on government help. “I get $285 a week from unemployment insurance and the extra $600 a week from the CARES Act,” she shares.

She was homeless once before. “I would be constantly be moving around making makeshift houses,” she tells me about that horrible experience, hoping never to repeat it. Moliga is one of an estimated tens of thousands of renters housing advocates like Kenna Stormogipson worry about.

Stormogipson is a Policy and Data Analyst at Hawai’i Budget and Policy Center, a research arm of The Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “A whole bunch of folks after July 31 are going to have a real reduction in their unemployment benefits. When that happens, they’re not going to be able to pay their bills like they used to,” she warns.

The $600 weekly federal boost to unemployment benefits ends on July 31. The federal Paycheck Protection Program ends on August 8, which could mean layoffs or furloughs. “They’re just not going to be able to pay rent and groceries, gas, living expenses, when next month they’re getting a much lower unemployment check,” predicts Stormogipson

That’s why Stormogipson hopes the Governor signs into law the newly passed Housing Relief and Resiliency program (SB126), which would give everyone on unemployment $100 a week on top of what they’re already getting, and $500 a month just for rent assistance, directly paid to the landlord. Both provisions last from August to December 2020. You would get the extra $100 automatically added to your unemployment check, but renters have to apply for the rent assistance portion.

The Governor’s office updates KITV4 that the bill, which the Legislature passed on June 26, still not signed; it is currently undergoing legal and departmental reviews.

“It’s really critical renters access the program. We don’t want people to get kicked out, or landlords to get frustrated. We don’t want folks to not be able to pay their rent,” she says.

Kenna says this is the typical unemployed renter profile:

Income before pandemic: $36,000 a year
Take home pay: $2,300 a month (after taxes)
Rent and utilities: 1,400 a month
Amount for groceries, clothes, car etc after housing: $900 a month

Monthly unemployment benefits after July 31st: $1,380
Extra $100 week from state: $400 total for the month
Take home pay approx.: $1,800 a month
Rent and utilities: $1,400 a month
Amount for groceries, clothes, car etc after housing: $400 a month

“Their biggest expense is rent,” she points out. “If this renter has a medical bill or has to fix their car they won’t be able to pay rent and also buy groceries.”

Not to mention what happens when the Governor’s moratorium on evictions ends on September 1. “When the eviction moratorium ends, then we’ll see an avalanche of evictions,” Stormogipson projects. (Moratorium language on pages 11, 12, 28.)

Stormogipson wants to prevent evictions, which she says would worsen the health and housing crisis. “You’d see more homelessness, people deciding to double and triple up. Having more people crowded together in tight living conditions – that’s not going to help you with the pandemic.”

Molina says she’s looking for all the help she can get, to keep a roof over her head.